So you’re going to slide down a Nicaraguan Volcano – then you’ll need to journey from Managua to the town of Leon. It’s a pretty little place but the town is pretty spread out. Even with no urban planning, the town is very walkable – in fact I walked around the entire town in about 4 hours. In keeping with the lack of planning, the restaurants and bars are all over the place and not concentrated in any particular area … this is why a couple of different parks and areas have become the place to congregate. Frankly, even for a Nicaraguan town, I thought it was quite dirty … the usual garbage in the streets and different types of people hanging around.
In spite of all this, Leon does have a lot of cool Colonial buildings and a LOT of churches – the town has the most churches per capita in Central America . So when I wasn’t heading to the volcano to slide down, I spent the majority of my free time wandering through the churches of Leon. To this day, I don’t know why I like churches … I’m not even Christian or religious.
Walking around the town, your logical start to churches in Leon will be the Cathedral of León. It’s pretty big, in fact it’s the biggest cathedral in Central America. There is the usual asssortment of famous Nicaraguans buried here, but you’ll want to head over here to climb the stairs up to the roof, where you can get a nice view of all of León’s churches and the surrounding volcanoes, and you can go into the cellars beneath the cathedral. On the roof you can see close up the giant sculptures holding up the cathedral bells, just don’t ring them. If you want some basic facts on the Cathedral, you can always head over to the Wikipedia entry.
After you’ve passed through the Cathedral, you can also walk through the markets, to get a local flavor of things on your way to Iglesia de El Calvario.
Iglesia de El Calvario
It’s at the top of Calle Central … and a 4 minute walk from the Cathedral. It’s a nice little church although I did find that the gory, full-sized statues of Jesus and the thieves being crucified was a bit much. Architecturally, the brightly painted facade between the red-brick bell towers, with brightly colored bas-relief biblical scenes that resemble comic-strip panels are very pretty and interesting, but nothing that would occupy you for more than 15 minutes. Then you’ll probably be heading to Iglesia San Juan.
Iglesia de San Juan Bautista de Subtiava
This church looks like a church should … in many ways, this is a typical Central American cathedral., and I loved the historic worn out facade of the church. It’s spacious, elegant, beautifully designed, and so very badly in need of restoration – down to the upside down name plate. The doors in the church had that “Baptist barn door” feel from American movies about the Old South, but the wooden altar-piece is probably the church’s highlight with its detailed carvings. Looking at the ceiling, I was confused about the prominent sun imagery but I learned that this was in an attempt to persuade the indigenous people into worshiping at the church.
After these churches, you’ll wander around to San Jose and San Felipe – then you’ll be hit by the heat in the town. With all these churches and concrete, stone and asphalt … it gets pretty warm in these parts. So chances are that you’ll stop for a drink or lunch in the main square and check out La Merced.
Convento de Nuestra Señora de la Merced
This church like all churches around here has a long name … Convento de Nuestra Señora de la Merced. It’s way easier to ask for La Merced. I was surprised that even with the super central location, this church is quite small inside … but everyone knows La Merced because of its central location within the town. You also can’t miss Iglesia La Recoleccion, it’s has the huge giant yellow facade.
In keeping with the whole church/Christianity theme to Leon, I’ll suggest that you stay at Hotel El Convento in the heart of the town. Where else are you going to find a boutique hotel that used to be the San Francisco Convent in 1639. There is a nice feel to the place and the grounds are very well kept. Before you end up thinking this to be an advertorial … it’s not. I just liked the hotel – they didn’t pay me to say anything but how many times are you going to sleep in a nunnery? Just don’t go expecting 5 star conforts … but it’s one of the best you’ll do in this town.
If the Christian overload I’ve hit you with, isn’t enough, then you’re in luck because Leon has many more churches than I listed here, you just need to leave your hotel, wander a few lefts and a few rights and you’ll stumble upon one … I guarantee it. I counted about 13 interesting churches that could easily occupy your day.